Monthly Archives: August 2012

The World According to RZA

I mentioned in my inaugural post last week that I have been taking guitar lessons in my spare time. In one of my lessons I was having some difficulty with a concept – my teacher was trying to explain to me how you are always a half step away from the right note even though he’d yet to explain what a step was or what notes I was playing when I played a particular string. In something of frustration he began “Okay, just think of it like this: the C-scale is basically like Divine Consciousness…” My 30 minute lesson was more than an hour and a half that day. I sat through most of his ‘om shanti om‘ ramble for the next hour or so with a grin on my face, oscillating between sincere interest and wondering how baked he was. I didn’t know it at the time of course, but this feeling would mirror my experience reading  The Tao of Wu by the RZA.

For those familiar with the RZA or the Wu Tang Clan, it is indisputable that they changed hip-hop and that RZA is obviously a talented man. With not a lot of financial or socio-economic advantages coming into this world, he was able to establish himself as a hip-hop superstar with the Wu Tang Clan as both producer and MC. As the leader of the Wu Tang Clan he helped launch solo careers for several members including: ODB, Raekwon, and Method Man. He is still regarded as one of the most influential hip-hop producers of all time. And don’t think he’s going to let you forget any of that.

This book read like a giant homage to RZA himself with some interspersing “words of wisdom”.  I’m not sure what I expected when I picked this book up – a spiritual memoir written by a well-known member of Wu Tang with “New York Times Bestseller” written on the front. I thought, if nothing else, it would be accessible. But RZA’s stream of spirituality is supremely esoteric. I am not spectacularly religious or well-versed in religions though I do think I am, and have been throughout my life, introspective enough to read different religious texts, spiritual guides and attend a variety of religious services. I do not know enough about Islam to comment on whether RZA’s brand is far reaching or not but when he speaks of Supreme Mathematics he really loses me. In Mathematics, each number is associated with a worldly value. For example, 1 is knowledge, 2 is wisdom and so onto 9. When you get to 10 you’re really back at 1 because 0 represents infinity so 10 is actually 1 plus infinity which is still 1. RZA would use this system to explain why certain things happened in his life at certain times….

At one point in the book, RZA talks about how he was a teacher for the kids in the ghettos; for those kids who so desired to be taught. As he’s describing the “verbal kung-fu” he has learned and can pass on to these kids – “Man, fuck them bitches nigga, Mike. We gon’ get those niggas next time!” – I started to wonder what the harm-to-benefit- ratio would be of his teachings. On the one hand, it is reassuring to have a sort of guide book (even in the form of numbers) when life is chaotic or confusing, on the other, kids would be putty in his hands, unable to think constructively or critically about the information he was feeding them.

What I did get (a snip-it of) from this book was the spiritual/ghetto life dichotomy I was expecting/looking for. RZA gives one example of this when he describes taking the bus home one day with his book of 120 lessons plus a .38 revolver hidden in his jacket.  This interesting image of a young man living in the ghetto, trying to arm himself, both mind and body, is then followed by a ridiculous story about how RZA was able to make himself invisible through sheer faith one day while he was being chased by members of a neighborhood gang. Any merit the book had created for itself instantly disappeared for me at that point.

As in life, the more negative I felt about these excerpts, the more irritating the whole book became for me. I would put it down from time to give myself a break, hoping that I could see it in a new light when I picked it back up. Unfortunately, a new chapter might begin with RZA explaining just how similar he actually is to a superhero and I would be back to negative town.

My only wish for this book is that someone like Kelly Oxford will read it. I think someone like here would have the necessary gall to really call RZA out on his bombast and wannabe ghetto homilies.

~ kate

Now A Major Motion Picture

I don’t usually read a book because it’s been made into a movie. Generally speaking, the addition of ‘Now A Major Motion Picture’ to a book cover actually deters me from reading it. And I somehow feel robbed when this happens to a book I have already read – the screen is rarely better than the book.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, books whose transformation into a movie have actually enhanced the story or at least done the written word justice: “The English Patient”, “Harry Potter”, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (both the Swedish and American versions), “Jurassic Park”, and Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” (I am hopefully foreshadowing…) to name a few.

This brings me to my latest read: the first book in the “Hunger Games” series. I hate being left out of pop-culture fodder so, though late to the party, I watched the Gary Ross directed “Hunger Games” on Friday night. I fell asleep towards the end (I wasn’t all that worried about the heroine surviving) though this should not be taken as a reflection of the movie; movies are like Ambien for me. In fact, I was intrigued enough to run out the next day and buy the book.

The Hunger Games is the latest book series turned epic movie to rake in the millions: starting with Harry Potter I believe, and we’ve all witnessed the Twilight empire unfold, along with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and several others. The Dragon Tattoo series is a bit of an anomaly in this group since it is aimed at a much older audience and there were parts in both the movie and the book where I had to read/watch through small spaces in my fingers while humming “the sun will come out tomorrow” to myself. Otherwise, these series all share some similarities, primarily this emergence of the underdog/female (did I need to differentiate?) as the victor or hero(.

Though the Harry Potter books were written before the collapse of Wall Street I wonder how much recent events have prompted these authors to write stories where the bondholders not the banks come out triumphant? Additionally, in an increasingly precarious and frightening world – nuclear plant meltdowns, Syrian protests, Eurozone crisis, Sarah Palin, Republicans, – many of these stories focus on an omnipotent government or center of control such as the Capitol in “The Hunger Games”.  Is it because we see increasing state control – Canada’s national police force recently being permitted to use evidence obtained by torture or the imprisonment of the members of Pussy Riot in Russia – around the globe? With the Internet practically synonymous with breathing and Facebook nurturing the exhibitionist/voyeur in us all, it can’t be that we’re all that concerned with who knows what about us – some of our most private details are easily accessible with the right know-how. No, we’re concerned, as was Peeta in The Hunger Games about how the Capitol’s impact on our lives will impede us from dying as ourselves and maintaining our identity. I imagine Pussy Riot supporters understand this one well.

What’s interesting to me is that all of this came from a novel aimed at ‘tweens. It appears to me that when you remove the flowery language so popular in adult fiction, cut the main characters down to single digits (sorry Mr. Marquez), and tell a fairly straightforward story – 24 kids fight to the death because the Capitol says so – you’re left with all this open space between the lines in which to read.

And isn’t that what reading is all about? It should entertain, yes. Perhaps teach us something as well. But more than anything, as Yann Martel said, “it should force us to question our ideas, beliefs and assumptions”. A stage for our fears isn’t a bad idea either. N’est pas?

Guess who’s back?

I last wrote a post on this blog in June 2010 – more than two years ago! A veritable life time. So much transpired in that time, namely I allowed my corporate/responsible/income-generating/non-soul-fulfilling side to get the better of me and the blog fell by the wayside. But, I recently quit my corporate job, got a dog, took guitar lessons and went on a soul-searching journey (Figuratively and literally. I think I found my tangible-soul somewhere in the backwoods of beautiful British Columbia).

Over the past couple of years, this blog has always been in the back of my mind and I’ve always hoped/wanted/prayed I’d write again. Which often led me to scribbling thoughts, ideas and book reviews down on scraps of paper so that when I did, eventually, pick it up again I’d have dozens of entries at my finger tips. Cut to: me running around my house in my jim jams this morning trying to find said scraps of paper to no avail…

The hardest part of anything is starting so despite my first entry being foiled, I have, in my books, officially (re)-started blogging and consider this my accomplishment for the day.

Stay tuned for a real entry! Teaser, the Wu-Tang should be making an appearance soon.

kate